It was perfect baseball weather during Winlock’s first team practice of the year on March 15, as the sun baked the water off the field, head coach Jordan Nailon hand-pushed a mower across the infield and the clouds parted to offer a view of Mount Rainier. Just good, old-timey baseball stuff. It even lightly snowed for a bit.
None of it mattered, because the Cardinals were practicing for the first time in a year and this time, unlike last year, cross-your-fingers and spit in your baseball cap, the season might actually happen.
Fast forward to March 19 and the Cardinals are in the midst of their fifth baseball practice of the year, three sunny days followed by a rainy gym day and finally a rainless, overcast Friday. The Cardinals are playing catch while a red, metallic Cardinal sits perched on top of the flagpole beyond the outfield fence.
Only three of the 10 kids at practice have ever played Winlock High School baseball before. Of those three, only one still has their hat. Nailon spent the past two months scouting Winlock football games and recruiting some gridiron guys to fill out his roster.
“There’s a lot to go over,” Nailon said. “There’s some good baseball players out here … Like everyone, we’re having to baby arms out here because you want to teach them how to throw, but if you teach them too hard then they’ll never throw again. It’s a short season so there’s no time to recover.”
The Cardinals may have gone 3-12 during the 2019 season, but all three wins came in the final three games, so technically they’re on a three-game win streak, which includes a no-hitter against Oakville. Winlock now has 19 total players out this year, more than double the number it has in 2018.
The team is preparing, just like every high school sport in the state in 2021, for a shortened, seven-week season. That presents a number of challenges for the kids and coaches. Season 1 games end Saturday, March 20, and Season 2 games begin Monday, March 22. There’s almost no time to prepare for the upcoming season with many kids playing multiple sports and having no break in between.
“The most interesting thing to watch this year is how teams separate,” Nailon said. “The teams who have the most guys going out and finding places to play last summer, you’ll be able to tell a big difference between when those guys hit the ground running and the guys who haven’t played since May 2019.”
But for most, they’re just happy to get the opportunity to play after having the 2020 season scrubbed before it ever began. The Cardinals had two weeks of practices before the season was shuttered by the WIAA, and same for most baseball teams in Lewis County. Centralia was the only baseball team in the county that actually played a game, two of them, a doubleheader against Timberline on March 15, one day before sports were canceled for the year.
That lost season has now been found, for the time being — fingers crossed — as Class 2B teams in Lewis and Pacific County kick off the season on Monday.
While Nailon had to do some recruiting to fill his roster this year, the one caveat is there are a good number of kids this season who were trying to play baseball last year before it ended.
“They’ve had a long time to think about what it would be like to actually play a game,” Nailon said. “So to actually have that opportunity — not promised to us, but — a very big, visible carrot out in front of us; we’ve had a big turnout.”
Nailon has had the same 14 kids at every practice other than Friday, and he expects to have competition at nearly every position. The Cardinals return five starters: junior Chris Heikkila, third baseman and outfielder, and Mekhi Morlin, a junior pitcher and infielder who played for the Cards as an eighth grader, transferred to Tenino and then returned to Winlock last year. Aiden Freitas, a senior third baseman and pitcher, is back after moving away sophomore year and returning last season. Tallen Lofgren has big-time, Willie-Mays-Hayes, batting-practice vibes, and likes to run it down in the outfield. Sophomore pitcher/outfielder Aiden Eitel would have been a big contributor last season as a freshman.
As for their competition, Nailon and really every other coach in the Central 2B League is not sure where they stack up with everyone else. The only near-certainties are that Kalama and Toutle Lake will be near the top of the standings after seven weeks.
Kalama, which lost in the 2019 state title game to Asotin (2-0), returns the most recognizable names and faces, most notably senior pitcher Tommy Brandenburg, who committed to the University of Oregon. Guess who Winlock plays on the road in its season opener on Monday? You guessed it.
“It’s been daunting knowing we have to go play Kalama in Kalama,” Nailon said. “I told these guys, ‘Historically, Kalama Chinooks, good at baseball.’”
Toutle Lake has two Division-I players and will likely vie for the league crown with the Chinooks. From there, all Nailon and the other coaches have to go off of is past accomplishments, being last season never happened.
“You wind up relying a lot on program mystique,” Nailon said. “What do you know about them? Have they historically been good? Who are their coaches? What kind of program do they run? Success begets success, so those places where they’ve had success, the younger guys watch it and want to be a part of it. So you can always count that they’ll be able to fill the roster and plug and play.”
The Pirates are one of the Central 2B League teams that have been historically dominant. Adna is coming off a 17-5 season in 2019 in which they lost in the state regional round. The Pirates return just one starter, senior pitcher/shortstop Levi Gates, but he’s a good one. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound field general played 50 games over the summer for his Diamond Sports Premier select team and signed to play for Bellevue College this fall. From there, Eighth-year coach Jon Rooklidge will have to fill out the rest of his roster, which is something Nailon thinks he will have no problem doing.
“Adna is always tough,” Nailon said. “They do a good job of replacing their Jimmies and Joes every year, and look like guys that have played a lot of baseball.”
The Mountaineers are coming off a 21-8 season in 2019, when they made it all the way to the third-place game at state; Rainier’s first final-four finish in program history. Fifth-year coach Mark Mounts returns a ton of talent, as well, with senior Carson Edminster at outfield and pitcher; senior Riffe Holmes at infield and outfield; senior Mikey Green at catcher and pitcher; junior Ethan Gonzalez at infield and pitcher; and sophomore Jake Jeske at outfield and pitcher.
“I really like Rainier,” Nailon said. “I like their coaching staff. I kind of hate to coach against them but I like their vibe. They’re pretty intense and they’re like a tribal unit. They only like the other Rainier people and they hate your guts, too. That’s good competition. Their players play crazy for them.”
The Vikings went 5-11 in 2019 and third-year coach Darren Kolb is confident his team will improve on that season with an effective pitching staff and some rising underclassmen. Top players to watch include senior first baseman Tryn Thompson; sophomore shortstop Keegan Kolb; sophomore third baseman Jake Comer; senior catcher Aiden Weist; junior outfielder Matteo Mendoza; and junior outfielder Gunner Mulligan.
“It should be a good year for us,” Kolb said. “We’re pretty solid with pitchers and upcoming kids.”
The Tigers went 10-9 and lost in districts in 2019, and return senior shortstop and pitcher Laythan Demarest; junior pitcher/outfielder Gavin Parker; junior infielder/pitcher Scott Burdick; and senior outfielder Brad Osborn.
The Loggers lost in the state regionals after going 14-10 during the 2019 season. They return no starters but have 23 players turning out this year.
The Indians could make a marked improvement on 2019’s season, where they went 4-12-1. Second-year coach Bill Waag was able to get his guys out onto the field for summer-league ball in 2020 and brings back a wealth of experience, starting with senior pitcher Ryan Bloomstrom; senior pitcher and first baseman Brannon Guyer; senior outfielder Rowdy Kirkendoll; senior infielder/pitcher Kaden Sellards; senior infielder/pitcher/catcher Jesse Towns, who also played for Rural Dirtbags Inc. last summer; junior utility Justin Filla; junior first baseman Conor Gilbreath; and junior pitcher/infielder Mason Miller.
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley
The Titans are coming off a 14-6 season in which they lost in districts in 2019. Returning starters include sophomore pitcher Garrett Keeton.
“Garrett will carry the bulk of our pitching duties,” PWV coach Kelly Barnum said. “He’s really worked on his game and plays a lot of travel baseball. He has a dynamic fastball and does well to mix in his offspeed.”
Also back is junior centerfielder Hudson Barnum.
“Hudson has shown a lot of growth as a leader this season,” Barnum said. “He’ll be the captain of the outfield in center and has shown some consistent power at the plate in BP.”
Junior Kaden Ritzman is moving over to first base to take over for all-leaguer Luke Gerow.
“Definitely has huge shoes to fill,” Barnum said. “But I know he can handle it. He’ll be a vacuum at first and will display consistent contact and power at the plate.”
And finally, senior Joey McCalden will split time between outfield and second base.
“He’s a great contact hitter and always brings a very positive attitude to the field,” Barnum said. “I would also like to thank senior Kollin Jurek for his dedication and hard work over the last few years to our program. Kollin suffered a severe knee injury and will miss this season, and the loss of his energy will be greatly missed by the team.”
1A Evergreen Conference
Tenino’s third-year coach Ryan Schlesser has no returning starters left from a team that went 7-14 in 2019.
2A Evergreen Conference
The Bearcats are coming off a dominant season in 2019, where they went 22-3 and lost in the state regional round. Seventh-year coach Bryan Bullock should have the Bearcats back in contention for the district title with nine key returners back, most notably senior catcher Drew Reynolds, a Texas Tech commit who is one of the top prospects in the entire state.
Longtime assistant Adam Riffe is taking over the Tigers from longtime head coach Rex Ashmore. Riffe has been the assistant the past eight seasons and is taking over a team that went 11-11 in 2019 and returns no starters from that season.
Seventh-year coach Brad Quarnstrom is leading a team that went 9-10 in 2019, losing in the district tournament. He returns junior pitcher Nolan Eyles; senior first baseman Eddie Burkhardt; senior catcher Cody Morton; junior pitcher/infielder Landon Hawes and junior pitcher/infielder Tony Groninger.
POWER CONFERENCE: Adna, PWV Headline Always-Tough Pool of Local Talent
When Adna defeated district rival Pe Ell-Willapa Valley for the 2B state championship on May 26, 2019, Pirates’ coach Bruce Pocklington planned to keep the trophy in Adna for the next several years.
His wish came true — just not the way he had hoped. The state trophy has now sat at Adna High School for nearly two years, and it will be there for at least another year due to the pandemic shutting down the season entirely in 2020, and forcing a shortened 2021 season with no state tournament. So until at least May 2022, the trophy will stay put, and if Pocklington and his Pirates have anything to say about it, it will remain there much longer.
“We had a really good chance of keeping it three years in a row, to tell you the truth,” Pocklington said. “But it didn’t work out. I feel sorry for my girls and I’m sure everybody does for their own.”
Adna, which capped off its 26-2 overall season in 2019 with its first state title since 2015 and first under fourth-year coach Pocklington, was one of the lucky teams in 2020. The Pirates competed in a jamboree in Montesano, playing just six innings, the day before the WIAA canceled the entire season.
Now, with no state trophy on the line, the Pirates, along with every other softball team in the state, will compete for district titles. But in the powerhouse District IV, the district championship is basically the state championship; at least it was in 2019.
The Pirates will again be in the forefront of the Central 2B League this year, led by senior superstar pitcher Haley Rainey, who pitched a complete game against PWV for the state title match as a sophomore, striking out five batters while also going 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and two RBIs.
Rainey, an Idaho State commit, is the reigning 2B State Player of the Year, Central 2B League MVP and The Chronicle’s All-Area MVP. She mowed down 39 batters en route to a 1.40 ERA across 20 innings of league play in 2019.
“She throws in the high 60s,” Pocklington said. “She works hard at her trade. She’s got way better control than she used to. We haven’t seen the best of her yet. I’m really expecting big things from her, even though we’re on a short season. She’s probably the most competitive athlete, if not top three, in our building. She’s the most competitive female in our building.”
The Pirates bring back a bevy of experience, having lost only three players from that state title team. They return 12 varsity players, including Kaylee Ashley (3B/1B); Emma Eko (C/UTL); Kooper Mahoney (OF); Keaton Dowell (OF/C); and sophomore pitcher Karlee Von Moos, who played up as an eighth grader that year.
“Emma has been my catcher since I got here,” Pocklington said.
The Pirates have been pitching and catching before school for the last month to get their arms in shape and to prevent injuries. Some kids haven’t picked up a ball or bat in a year, Pocklington said. March 15 was the first official practice and they were able to spend the first three days outside with nice weather.
The toughest thing had been waiting for all the players to get finished with their previous sports, as there is just a one-day break between Season 1 and Season 2. Six or seven of the girls play soccer and their season just ended on March 16. They were practicing on the diamond the next day. Four volleyball players ended their season March 17 and began practice the following day.
There’s no time to get adjusted as the pirates host Winlock at 4 p.m. Thursday in the season opener.
Pocklington, along with every other coach, isn’t quite sure what to expect out of the other competition around the league, with no one playing last year. One thing is almost certain, Adna’s biggest challenge will likely be cross-county rival Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, a Pacific 2B League team still looking for revenge from that 2019 state title game.
“PWV has a very good pitching staff,” Pocklington said. “They’ve lost some good athletes but they’ve still got some good athletes.”
The Titans have been in the last three state title games, winning in 2017 and runners-up in 2018 and 2019, a year they went 22-5. PWV returns a wealth of talent, led by junior power pitcher and power hitter Olivia Matlock, who throws in the 60s and started at second base in the 2019 state title game and knocked in an RBI double.
Also returning are Merissa Frasier (Jr. INF); Raegan Portmann (Jr. C); Annika Mason (Sr. INF); Sadie Howard (Sr. OF); Dani Shannon (Jr. OF); and Ava Bush (Sr. INF).
“Everybody is excited about getting going,” PWV coach Ken Olson said. “They’re ready to go.”
The Titans also began practicing on March 15, like the rest of the league, and Olson is confident he has the pieces to make a run for the district title. One of the biggest factors is every single one of his players competes on a travel team and plays year-round.
“I think the district tournament is going to be a format similar to what we’re used to, and they’ll make it as big as they want to make it,” Olson said of his players. “I don’t know how the rest of our league is and I don’t know much about the Central, but I just know Adna and they know us. But there’s other teams that any given day you can lose. There’s no guarantee that the two of us will meet in the district championship, but we’ve got a lot of returning players and so do they.”
One of the other likely contenders could be Onalaska, led by third-year coach Rich Teitzel. The Loggers went 17-11 in 2019, advancing to the state quarterfinals where they lost by one run to Liberty before being eliminated in the consolation bracket. The Loggers bring back junior infielder Alex Cleveland-Barrera and junior outfielder/infielder Hannah (Jones) James.
“Onalaska gave us some fits a little bit, here and there,” Pocklington said. “But I don’t know what they’ve lost in the last two years basically.”
The Indians also qualified for the state tournament in 2019 after going 15-4 and earning the No. 6 seed at districts. They went 1-2 at state before being eliminated in the consolation bracket. Second-year head coach Chad Williams returns no starters from that team in 2019.
The Cardinals will be one of the more interesting teams to watch this season, led by first-year coach Lauren Dumoulin, a 2010 Centralia grad who played catcher in college and spent four years as head coach of a successful Class 4A Mount Si program.
The Cardinals bring back a few key pieces from 2019, including junior infielder/pitcher Addison Hall; senior pitcher infielder Carlie Jones; junior infielder Maia Chaney; junior outfielder Natasha Patton and junior outfielder Raen Yarbrough.
However, they are excited for a fresh start this season after a very long offseason, Dumoulin said.
“We had a great turnout this year with a lot of younger kids who, unfortunately, didn’t get the opportunity to play last year due to COVID but are ready to work hard.”
Both Pocklington and Olson had high praise for Dumoulin. Olson coached her at Centralia High School for four years, while Pocklington is a family friend and his daughter was a freshman on the Tigers’ fastpitch team when Dumoulin was a senior.
“If she stays at Winlock, she’ll do a great job,” Pocklington said. “I don’t know what she has right now, but she’s a go-getter, she’s a great softball gal, she’ll get kids interested and she’s a good motivator.”
The Tigers are in a bit of a rebuilding year after going 9-12 overall and 6-8 in league during the 2019 season. Second-year coach Josh Fay returns two varsity players: junior pitcher Patricia Helsing and sophomore pitcher/infielder Cailyn Milton.
“I know Napavine is very young,” Pocklington said.
MWP has a brand new coach, Derek Bowen, who will look to improve the T-Wolves on their 14-7 season in 2019 when they advanced to the district tournament as a four-seed. Back are eight varsity players from the canceled 2020 season, including Jaiden Linder (Sr. P/SS); Chloee Justus (Sr. P/1B); Kylie Davis (Sr. C/SS); Lizzy Nichols (Sr. OF); Shebly Karns (Jr. C/1B); Madison Green (Jr. OF); Emary Hampton (So. 3B); Callie Yates (So. OF).
Joining the team are four talented freshmen: Natalia Armstrong (2B), McKenzee Mays (SS), Abigail Sympson (OF) and Priscilla Meza (OF).
The Mountaineers, led by third-year coach Kyle Greenwood, are coming off a 4-16 season. Returning starters include senior centerfielder Emily Karnes, pitcher Bailey Elwall and second baseman Alyssa Lofgren.
“Emily is an integral part of this program since her freshman year. Her drive, humor and ability to draw others to her are a big key to our program’s success,” Greenwood said. “Elwall led the team with 68 strikeouts, was third on the team in batting average and second for runs scored. Alyssa leads by example and helps guide the younger players in our program. She is so knowledgeable and is an excellent teacher to her teammates.”
1A Evergreen Conference
The Beavers are upperclassmen-heavy and bring back a ton of starters from 2019’s squad that went 8-14: Emily Baxter (Jr. P); Courtney Backman (Jr. C); Aurora Loya Sr. C/2B); Bailey Greene (Sr. 1B); Kayla Feltus (Jr. 2B); Cassie Cannon Sr. SS); Autumn Long (Sr. 3B); Sierra Pogue (Jr. LF); Abby Severse (Jr. CF) and Alivia Hunter (Jr. RF).
“We are much improved over our team from two years ago,” Tenino coach Chris Johnson said. “This group of girls has been playing softball together for a long time and we have a good balance of juniors and seniors.”
2A Evergreen Conference
The last time the Bearcats took the field for an official game, they lost the 2019 state championship. In 2020, the Bearcats were again loaded to make a run for the state title. They won’t get a chance to make the third time a charm with no state tourney.
Fourth-year coach Caty Lieseke will lean on junior ace Kamy Dacus, who was the top pitcher in the conference as a freshman. She tossed 130 innings that season with 186 strikeouts and a 2.15 ERA. Dacus also added three home runs with a .409 batting average and a .682 slugging percentage. Also back is senior starter Alisha Anderson, who will anchor the outfield.
The Tigers are coming off a 10-11 season under third-year coach David Orr. Centralia returns a slew of players who would have been starters in 2020: Courtney Spriggs (Sr.); Ella Orr (Jr.); Jadyn Hawley (Jr.); Elizabeth Hubbard (Jr.); Peyton Smith (So.); Madison Buchanan (So.); Jiemina Louis (So.); Lily Babka (So.) and Tatum Johnston. (So.).